Sujai Hajela, SVP, AI-Driven Enterprise, Juniper Networks

MIT Manages Unprecedented Challenges and Embraces Change

Sujai Hajela Headshot
Side-by-side photos of Sujai Hajela SVP, AI-Driven Enterprise, Juniper Networks, and Mark Silis Information Systems & Technology, MIT, as they discuss how MIT is leading the pack with an AI-driven campus network.

MIT is leading the pack with an AI-driven campus network.

MIT, a world-renowned university, manages unprecedented challenges and embraces change with its Mist AI platform from Juniper Networks. Join Sujai Hajela and Mark Silis to hear how AI was a game-changer for MIT’s campus network.

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You’ll learn

  • Why MIT’s network complaints are the lowest they’ve been in years

  • How to deliver a quality learning and working environment for students, faculty, and staff

  • How to keep students safe by monitoring density

Who is this for?

Security Professionals Network Professionals


Sujai Hajela
Sujai Hajela
SVP, AI-Driven Enterprise, Juniper Networks

Guest speakers

Mark Silis
Mark Silis
Information Systems & Technology, MIT


0:00 [music]

0:07 -Hello, everyone, my name is Sujai Hajela, senior vice president

0:12 and general manager at Juniper, and formerly, co-founder and CEO at Mist.

0:17 Joining me today is Mark Silis, Vice President

0:21 for Information Systems and Technology at MIT.

0:24 Mark, welcome, and thank you for joining us today.

0:28 -Thank you, Sujai. It's a real pleasure to join

0:30 you today, virtually, here in the Hollywood Squares.

0:32 It' s a pleasure to be with everybody, and I look forward to our conversation.

0:36 -Mark, you and I have been conversing

0:38 as we have embarked on this journey together.

0:40 First of all, thank you so much for the opportunity.

0:44 Not only for the opportunity at an esteemed organization

0:47 such as MIT, but also, more importantly, what you, Marco,

0:51 and the team have really done in helping move this journey forward.

0:56 As a world-renowned University, MIT,

1:00 you' re faced with unprecedented challenge of delivering

1:03 a quality learning and work environment for your students, faculty, and staff.

1:09 This challenge is further amplified via the unfortunate pandemic.

1:14 Mark, how are you addressing this challenge?

1:19 -One of the great things about working at MIT is we have some

1:23 of the best and brightest minds, I think, the world has to offer.

1:26 That also means we have some of the, probably,

1:27 toughest clientele that the world has to offer.

1:30 That holds us to a pretty high standard in terms of expectations.

1:34 That' s just under normal circumstances.

1:38 This past year has probably put us under

1:40 unprecedented circumstances in terms of expectations.

1:44 Really, Information Technology went from, I don' t want

1:47 to necessarily say a complementary part of our environment here.

1:50 Obviously, there' s a variety of research and academic

1:52 innovations, and everything else, that take place here at MIT,

1:55 but it' s really become absolutely mission-critical,

1:58 it is, our institutions,

2:00 as we' ve transitioned into this digital realm, due to the pandemic.

2:04 Really, the infrastructure we have here and operate

2:07 has become absolutely part of the mission.

2:10 I' ve never felt, and my team has never felt,

2:12 more closely supporting the mission of MIT.

2:15 This is the closest we' ve ever felt, probably, in my time here since 1995.

2:19 Coming in as a young MIT student, and certainly, through

2:22 the years, I' ve never seen technology be a more important part.

2:27 Certainly, as we' ve gone through this, really, the expectations are sky-high.

2:31 Then we entered this new phase.

2:33 As we entered this new phase, we had to-- First

2:36 and foremost was health and safety of everybody.

2:38 I think everyone here, joining virtually or otherwise, can relate to that.

2:42 Keeping all of our students, their families,

2:45 our faculty, and staff safe has been really top of mind.

2:48 That was the first phase of our transition,

2:50 as we disembarked in March.

2:52 Then we quickly, like most organizations, started to undertake

2:55 the question of "How do we get some semblance

2:58 of our day-to-day institution back together again?"

3:01 and really started to think about how to get our classes online.

3:04 For the first time, we went from having, a small number of selected

3:08 large classes online,

3:09 numbering 100, 200, out of our 1700 classes,

3:13 to figuring out how to get another 1500 classes online

3:16 in a period of let' s say a couple of weeks.

3:19 Then figuring out from there, once we had the curricula going

3:22 and basic MIT functions up and running, administratively and otherwise,

3:26 how do you really go about figuring out how to get this research

3:28 and this innovation engine that takes place here on this MIT

3:31 campus going again, and how do we do that safely?

3:34 That, we started to embark on as we started the summer,

3:38 with a real expectation that we needed

3:40 to have this up and going again, in a matter of weeks.

3:43 That really led to our partnership.

3:46 I remember approaching you and saying, "We really need some

3:49 capabilities in our infrastructure here, particularly in our wireless,

3:52 which really is our most important infrastructure these days.

3:54 It is the last mile.

3:55 I know those people, years ago, could never

3:58 imagine that happening, but we' re here.

4:01 Really, "We need you to do a level of instrumentation,

4:03 a level of visibility, a level of information, access,

4:07 and just real-time visibility that we never had before."

4:10 That was really going to be an essential part of how we were able to

4:13 bring people back to campus, to monitor health and safety, density,

4:16 all sorts of other aspects of our operation.

4:19 MIT, as you would imagine, technology is the name of the institution,

4:23 IT was going to be a huge part of our come-back-to-campus-safely

4:25 strategy as we started to restart our research engine.

4:29 That' s when I approached you and said, "

4:31 Hey, how about we replaced our entire wireless infrastructure?"

4:35 "Oh, I don' t know," he told me.

4:38 Sujai, he' s a great sport, because

4:41 when I said that, I expected a little bit

4:44 of a shock, but he was an incredible partner willing

4:48 to dive in and said, "Yes, I think we can do that."

4:51 Between, Sujai, his team, Sudheer, Tom, everybody, Marco on my side,

4:55 it just was incredible to see everybody come and marshal together and say,

4:59 "We' re going to figure out how to do this because we need

5:01 to do this to figure out how to get MIT going again."

5:04 and this is really a foundational element to get MIT up and running

5:07 and get that research engine going, and also, as we look to the fall term,

5:11 as you well know, trying to get students back here in some fashion.

5:13 Not the 100% density we have normally, but in some safe

5:17 semblance of density that we can handle and also allow them

5:22 to participate in those programs that you can' t do virtually,

5:25 building a virtual robot, doing chemical experiments, those things

5:29 you just can' t do over things like video conferencing.

5:33 We embarked on that adventure together.

5:35 I' m happy to see that both of us are still

5:37 standing, still smiling, so that' s a good sign,

5:41 but what really took place over that time period was just-- honestly,

5:44 it was one of the most exciting things

5:46 that happened for us during the pandemic.

5:48 Just the level of partnership and support for both

5:51 of our respective organizations working together.

5:53 I know I pinged you a few times off-hours, and you did answer.

5:58 It was just an amazing,

5:59 amazing adventure between our two respective organizations.

6:03 I can' t think of a better partnership that I' ve seen throughout this pandemic.

6:08 They see relationships are forged through shared adversity, and just

6:12 the way both our organizations have responded to this, I think,

6:15 is one of the best examples of what is possible,

6:18 even under the most trying circumstances.

6:20 If you really put your mind

6:21 to it and your heart to it, you can do anything.

6:23 -Mark, thank you so much for it. I agree.

6:27 When we first started this conversation, yes, I had those emotions,

6:31 as you were saying, really, but you yourself

6:35 said that time, that"Sujai, with things going on,

6:39 the timeline, the order of measure has changed

6:43 from years to months, from months to weeks, and from weeks to days."

6:48 I was really excited, Mark, that as we embarked on this challenge,

6:53 which frankly, both the teams took on to make happen, really,

6:57 what differentiated us was the vision of an Experience-First

7:02 networking, the vision of, like you used to say,

7:06 "Sujai, I need complete visibility as to what' s going on."

7:09 You and I both know that the amount of calls, video calls, which

7:14 were run on your network, has never seen that volume before.

7:20 What I really liked was, as we said, we both--

7:23 I feel the teams stood up to the challenge because

7:26 that vision of Experience-First networking was there.

7:30 Mark, what' s your view on Experience-First networking, and how are

7:37 you enhancing the experience, not only for your students, faculty,

7:40 and administrators, but also, how you as an IT

7:44 organization leader run your organization?

7:47 -Sure thing.

7:49 I would say we and very much the Mist team embarked

7:52 on a journey when we really saw the cloud.

7:55 The last several years is really a game-changer.

7:58 We' ve really seen it as a game-changer, not just

8:00 in how applications are built or where they' re run,

8:03 I think a lot of people think of cloud traditionally, like,

8:05 "Oh, well, now the application doesn' t run in my data center.

8:07 It runs in somebody else' s, and that' s the cloud." It' s really not.

8:10 I think that actually, that' s part of it, but I don' t want to sell it short.

8:13 I think that often gets overlooked,

8:15 but it' s a whole new way of looking at things.

8:17 It' s a whole new capability of tools and powers

8:19 and just functions that you could never do before.

8:24 Really, for us, we've seen this opportunity

8:26 as a way to really rethink not only our operation

8:29 but just our expectations and how we do things,

8:31 really looking at it from the standpoint of,

8:33 "There' s things we couldn' t

8:34 solve before that we could actually try and tackle for the first time."

8:37 There' s enough computational scale.

8:39 There' s enough computational power to do things that before,

8:41 because of constrained resources, you just couldn' t do.

8:45 For us-- I was talking to someone who was an early--

8:47 say the godfather of cloud.

8:49 I said, "Now that we have this cloud approaching

8:52 maturity across our industry, what do you think?"

8:55 He goes, "All of the way we've been looking at everything

8:58 in the technology industry is about treating computation, treating storage,

9:01 treating memory, and everything as a scarcity.

9:03 All the mentality of how you build things, and how you design

9:06 things is about treating these things as a scarcity.

9:08 You have an entire industry of people who were educated that way,

9:11 who were built that way, who would need to change their thinking now,"

9:13 and he goes, "That' s not going to happen overnight."

9:16 We' ve embarked on this journey, but you guys did too.

9:18 You guys have taken a look at what I' ll say are some of the more

9:21 vexing challenges about visibility, about performance,

9:24 about really understanding what' s going on on the network,

9:27 because there' s a lot of information to crunch to figure that out.

9:30 To get a holistic view of what's going on, that' s a big problem.

9:33 That' s a big data problem. That' s truly a big data problem.

9:37 For us, this is, really, probably the first time we thought

9:40 we could actually try and tackle these experiences in real-time,

9:43 figure out what' s going on.

9:45 One of the great things about, I think, what we' ve been able to do

9:48 with the new platform and with the capabilities

9:51 it brings to the table is, we can actually see what' s happening,

9:53 and we can see what' s happening in real-time.

9:55 We can see where we have challenges.

9:57 When someone reports an issue, we can actually look

9:59 at it and see where it' s going on, for the first time.

10:01 We' re not running around with an RF detector

10:03 or something, trying to figure it out.

10:05 Not that my guys didn' t love doing that.

10:07 I know they liked getting out to the field, but it really,

10:10 for the first time,

10:11 it' s like somebody turned the lights on. It really was.

10:13 One of my engineers said to me, "It felt like somebody turned the lights on.

10:16 You could actually see what was happening."

10:18 Once you have that information available to you,

10:20 once you have that data available to you,

10:21 you can do all sorts of things about how you optimize your operation, how

10:24 you think about how to allocate resources, where you make

10:27 your investments, where you need to make changes, all sorts

10:29 of things that you just couldn' t do before.

10:31 I' d want to think of previous time spent doing some of this early-generation

10:35 wireless networking is kind of feeling your way around in the dark.

10:39 Trying to make a change here, and then maybe

10:41 the complaining will stop, maybe it' ll get better.

10:43 A lot of things like that, because it was just so much information

10:46 to figure out what was going on and get a comprehensive picture,

10:48 that you couldn' t do it.

10:50 For the first time with the power of cloud and the platform

10:52 you and your team have developed, you can actually do that.

10:55 For us, it' s allowed us to really change our operation.

10:58 I' ll be honest, the number of complaints, the number

11:01 of issues, and the number of (unclear) are the lowest I' ve

11:04 ever seen them in my entire time here at MIT.

11:07 It actually gives us an ability, now, to focus

11:09 on where we need to make enhancements and improvements

11:11 and all sorts of things that we just couldn' t do before.

11:13 I' ll be honest, we just couldn't. For us, it' s a game-changer.

11:16 There' s no other way to say it. It' s a game-changer.

11:18 I think, really trying to get above just

11:21 this basic level of infrastructure operations,

11:23 which I think is where our industry has been pretty much traditionally,

11:26 and starting to move up the stack, in terms of how things are working,

11:29 how things are performing, where we can make things better,

11:32 we' re actually moving our way up the stack in terms of, I don' t know,

11:35 Maslov' s pyramid of network needs.

11:37 [chuckles]

11:38 You started down here, and I don't know if it' s self-actualization

11:41 yet, but I think the good news is we' re moving our way up the stack,

11:44 and we' re now focusing on higher-level problems that, before, we couldn' t

11:46 even think about, because we were worried about all the things down here.

11:49 I think it' s a huge step forward for us.

11:51 -Mark, I love it when you say, "You turned the lights on."

11:54 Frankly, I say this for our teams at Juniper:

11:59 Sudheer, Tom, Vesper, Jacob working with your teams.

12:04 What we are proud and humbled about is that through this partnership,

12:08 we ourselves have realized how we can better that experience.

12:13 Your team, having gone through what is possible, having seen

12:18 how they were doing things before, and how they can do things now, frankly,

12:22 thank you so much, that' s helping us better the product too.

12:26 Mark, we all know you' re extremely smart.

12:30 Of course, MIT alum, what would you expect?

12:33 At the same time, you' ve got a team which is dedicated, loyal, and runs hard.

12:38 I think Marco doesn' t know when it' s day and when it' s night.

12:42 You need something, he just goes after it.

12:44 It' s an amazing team, and it' s your leadership,

12:46 frankly, which is putting that forward.

12:51 Something for your peers in the industry, what trends do you see

12:56 shaping networking in the education sector in the near and medium-term?

13:01 -Sure thing. I think, near term, one of the biggest things will be about

13:04 how we pivot to a post-pandemic world, and I' ll be honest,

13:08 I hope that pivots sooner than later.

13:09 I don' t think we can all live like this.

13:11 Maybe for the next event,

13:12 everyone could gather in person, that' d be nice.

13:15 I think, for us, really trying to think about

13:17 what' s that pivot look like to the post-COVID world.

13:20 How do we start to return to what will be a new normal?

13:24 Not a normal that we' ve ever had before, but a different normal.

13:27 How do we repopulate some of these campuses?

13:30 How do we restart our activities?

13:32 One of the things that'll be interesting for higher

13:33 education is-- I know the model is tried and true.

13:37 In no way am I discounting the efficacy of the models we' ve been using.

13:41 One of the great things that has come out of this pandemic, and we can

13:44 think of it as a bit of an experiment or a forced experiment,

13:47 is to really take a look at some areas of the educational

13:50 experience and how we can improve it in ways we probably

13:54 never would' ve thought about traditionally.

13:56 I' ll give you an example.

13:58 I was a young MIT student in the mid-1990s,

14:01 and one of the things you learn quickly if you' re

14:03 a student here is, if you don' t make it to the class,

14:07 if you don' t make it to the lecture, for whatever reason,

14:09 or if you don' t take good notes, you' re going to have a problem.

14:12 You' re going to be in trouble

14:14 because if you think you' re going to use the textbook, no.

14:17 One of the great challenges here was, to really take that experience,

14:20 which is a core part of that learning, is very much dependent on the student.

14:25 The real efficacy of is dependent on how good your memory is

14:28 and how good your notes are,

14:30 or partnering with others to get that information.

14:31 One of the things that shocked us, coming out of this, was the students

14:35 loved the fact that this class,

14:38 information, this experience, is now online.

14:40 They actually liked it. There' s an ability to do self-paced learning.

14:44 You couldn' t do that before.

14:45 If you wanted to go back and review a concept, relook at how

14:48 this was described or talked about in class, you couldn' t do that.

14:51 For the first time, people can do that.

14:54 There' s larger classes where you have 500,

14:56 600 people, which is large by MIT standards.

14:58 I know some of my peers will say, "Well, we own 5,000",

15:00 so I wanted to put it in context. For MIT it' s fairly large.

15:05 Folks felt hesitant to participate or to raise your hand.

15:08 It' s hard to be the guy in the front row

15:10 or the back row saying, "I' ve got a question."

15:13 For the first time in this paradigm, people were actually

15:15 able to reasonably ask questions through something like chat,

15:18 and it actually also allows the instructor to get a sense,

15:20 real-time, of, "Are people understanding what I' m saying?

15:22 Do I need to adjust or re-look at some of the things I' ve just

15:25 talked about and give them some more details

15:27 just to get the key themes or ideas home?"

15:31 We didn' t expect that. We actually didn' t.

15:32 That was something that we just completely didn' t expect,

15:35 and it just gives you a flavor of the kinds of things that these

15:38 experiences we' ve had these past 12 months will help us in the future.

15:42 I think, how we returned-- Stepping away from education, if you look

15:46 at just the general workplace,

15:47 what does the workplace mean in the future?

15:49 How does that work? What's that going to be like?

15:52 It' s probably going to be, not the way

15:53 it was, probably more hybrid, but in what way?

15:57 Is it going to be half the workforce home,

15:58 20% home, 80% here.

16:00 I don' t know. I think for every institution or organization,

16:02 it' s going to be a little bit,

16:03 but I tell you, it won' t look like it did before.

16:06 One of the great things, for us, is if you' re in a constrained

16:09 area like Cambridge or Boston,

16:11 where real estate' s hard to come by, there' s a real opportunity, by looking

16:15 at the use of these precious resources, which is the physical campus.

16:18 Is there an opportunity to refocus or reallocate more to the mission,

16:21 on the education and the research side?

16:23 That' s a game-changer.

16:24 I think those are real opportunities we' ll be looking at,

16:27 and the networking that supports it becomes equally important.

16:29 I think, for us, the infrastructure becomes a key part of how

16:33 we' re going to operate these institutions in the future,

16:35 because all the technology investments we' ve made,

16:38 over these past 12 months, they' re not going away.

16:41 They' re going to have to get better.

16:43 The expectations are going to have to get better.

16:45 From that standpoint, the expectations are just going to go up.

16:49 I look at where we are right now and where we' re

16:51 headed to, it' s just going to get up and get higher.

16:54 I think there' s actually a lot of enthusiasm and excitement, here

16:57 on our side, because it really has opened a lot of eyes about

17:00 opportunities to do things we wouldn' t have thought of before.

17:02 I think we look towards the future with a lot

17:03 of excitement about what we can do there.

17:06 -Well, Mark, it' s always very insightful, and fun, talking to you.

17:11 Thank you so much for your time and your insights today.

17:15 -Oh, it' s my pleasure.

17:16 It' s always a pleasure to talk to my dear friends, here at Juniper.

17:20 Honestly, I can' t thank you enough for your partnership

17:24 and for your support for us through this entire pandemic.

17:27 I know we asked a lot of you and the team, but you guys have

17:31 risen to the challenge and have been true warriors, true partners,

17:35 and just true friends throughout this.

17:37 For that, I can' t thank you and your entire

17:39 team enough, and I really appreciate it.

17:41 [music]

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